Kane County History: Batavia's Incredible Roller Skating Legacy

Kane County History: Batavia’s Incredible Roller Skating Legacy

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Batavia Depot Museum Executive Director Jennifer Putzier. All photos courtesy of Batavia Depot Museum.

1880s roller skating illustration. (Not of Batavia, IL.)

In the 1880s, the roller skating craze hit Batavia.

The modern roller skate, called the “quad skate” because each foot has four wheels set in two side-by-side pairs, was invented in 1863 by Joseph Plimpton in New York. This new design allowed skaters much more flexibility in movement and became an instant success.

As the invention made its way west, skating rinks popped up to accommodate skaters who likely didn’t have access to paved roads or sidewalks.

In 1883, J. H. Fenton of Chicago rented Batavia’s Music Hall to outfit it for roller skating. The newly built Music Hall, which opened for business Oct. 29, 1880, boasted a seating capacity of 575 patrons and a convenient first floor auditorium, one of the first in the Fox Valley.

When not being used for lectures, plays or balls, it was an ideal space to skate.

The Music Hall still stands and is at 10 Shumway Ave., just south of Wilson Street.

It’s uncertain if the interest in roller skates had already hit Bennett Kindblade, or the close proximity of the Music-Hall-turned-skating-rink to his shop on the corner of Wilson and Shumway piqued his interest, but he began to sell, manufacture, and improve roller skates.

Bennet Skate factory at Wilson and Shumway (which was at that time called Mechanic) 1885.

Kindblade immigrated to America from Sweden and came to the Fox River Valley in 1852. He spent the first 20 years in Geneva, then moved to Batavia. He was a skilled craftsman and mechanic; he was mentioned in The Past and Present of Kane County (1878) as “B. Kindblade — who will make anything from a cambric needle to an electric engine or piano-forte.”

A jack of all trades, Kindblade dabbled in what interested him. In Geneva, he set up shop as a photographer. In Batavia, he was known as a cabinet maker, a cigar maker, an instrument maker and manufacturer of sporting goods. If there was a niche, Kindblade seemed to fill it.

In 1884, Bennett Kindblade patented his invention of converting ice skates to roller skates (patent number US299799A).

By 1885, he was fully immersed in the business of roller skating. He had converted his shop into a roller skate making factory, and operated his own roller skating rink just east of the old Chicago and Northwestern Passenger Depot at Wilson and Water Streets.

The Kindblade Roller Rink was in an old warehouse and was tucked behind a candy shop and restaurant on Wilson.

Sanborn map showing Kindblade’s Roller Rink north of the corner of Wilson and Water, 1885.

As it has done many times over the last 150 years, the roller skating craze died down. By 1891, Kindblade’s Roller Rink was turned into a “Paint Shop” and by 1907 it had been torn down, leaving a vacant lot.

Kindblade’s roller skate factory on the corner of Wilson and Shumway was simply listed as a “variety” shop in 1891, and he became known for manufacturing bows, arrows and violins.

In 1900, at the venerable age of 80, Kindblade returned to Sweden. There, he earned accolades for his violins, as his obituary states:

“As an acknowledgement to his (violin making) abilities, he was given a title from one of the Monarchs, King Oscar of Sweden.”

His interest in making violins defined the end of his long and varied career. He died in Sweden at the age of 91 on Jan. 30, 1910.

Photo of the Chicago and Northwestern Train Depot and warehouse that Kindblade had his roller rink in, unknown date.

About the Batavia Depot Museum

The Batavia Depot Museum opened in 1975 as a partnership between the Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society. The Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Depot was the first of its kind built in 1854, and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Inside, the city’s past comes alive through exhibits detailing the history of rail transportation, manufacture of windmills, agriculture, banking, commerce and a brief stay by Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place.

Open seasonally, March through November. Hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Read The Kane County History Series!